Does instant oatmeal have gluten?

The short answer is that most instant oatmeals are gluten-free, but some varieties may contain traces of gluten from cross-contamination. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Oats themselves do not naturally contain gluten, but can become contaminated with gluten during growing, harvesting or processing.

Quick facts on instant oatmeal and gluten

  • Oats do not naturally contain gluten, however they can become contaminated with gluten during processing.
  • Most major brands of instant oatmeal are labeled gluten-free, indicating minimal gluten from cross-contact.
  • Individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should select oatmeal labeled gluten-free to avoid potential issues.
  • Checking the ingredient list for wheat, barley, rye or malt is a good way to identify possible gluten sources.
  • Added flavors and mix-ins may also contain gluten, so it’s important to read labels thoroughly.

Are oats gluten-free?

Oats, by themselves, do not contain gluten. However, they can become contaminated with gluten in several ways:

  • During growth: Oats may be rotated with wheat or other gluten-containing crops, allowing gluten transfer via shared equipment.
  • During harvest: Equipment used to harvest wheat may also be used for oats, causing cross-contact.
  • During transport: Oats can mix with other grains during transport, resulting in contamination.
  • During processing: Most oats are processed in facilities that also handle wheat and other gluten grains.

For these reasons, oats alone cannot be assumed to be gluten-free. Testing is required to confirm their gluten status.

Are instant oatmeals gluten-free?

Most major brands of instant oatmeal label their products gluten-free. This indicates that testing has shown gluten levels to be below 20 parts per million (ppm), the cutoff for gluten-free labeling in the U.S. and many other countries.

Some examples of popular gluten-free instant oatmeal brands include:

  • Quaker Instant Oatmeal
  • Store brand instant oatmeals (e.g. Kirkland Signature at Costco)
  • Nature’s Path Hot Oatmeal
  • Bob’s Red Mill Instant Rolled Oats
  • King Arthur Flax & Maple Brown Sugar Instant Oats

However, it’s important to note that gluten cross-contact can still occur. Companies take measures to prevent this, but cannot guarantee zero traces of gluten.

Checking for gluten-containing ingredients

When selecting an instant oatmeal, check the ingredients list for potential sources of gluten such as:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Malt or malt flavoring (usually derived from barley)
  • Oat fibers or processed oats (may contain gluten from mechanical sorting)

Avoid instant oatmeals that contain these ingredients if you need to strictly avoid gluten.

Added flavors and ingredients

Even gluten-free oats can become contaminated by added flavors and ingredients. Some examples include:

  • Dried fruit with flour coatings
  • Nuts roasted with wheat-based seasonings
  • Flavor extracts containing gluten-based alcohol

Carefully check the ingredients list and allergen statements for any potentially gluten-containing additions. Opt for plain instant oats or oatmeal flavors made without questionable ingredients if gluten is a concern.

Is oatmeal gluten-free for celiac disease?

For most people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, certified gluten-free oats are considered safe. However, around 5-10% of celiacs may still react to a protein called avenin in oats.1

The reasons for the intolerance are unclear, but could include:

  • Individual avenin intolerance
  • Cross-reactivity between avenin and gluten
  • Gluten contamination in oats

People with celiac disease should speak with a doctor before adding oats to their diet. They can determine if a challenge is appropriate and monitor for any reactions.

Are instant oatmeals safe on a gluten-free diet?

For most people following a gluten-free diet, instant oatmeal labeled gluten-free is considered safe. However, those with celiac disease or wheat allergy should take additional care due to potential cross-contact:

  • Choose certified gluten-free oats if highly sensitive
  • Avoid brands that don’t guarantee gluten-free
  • Check for gluten-containing ingredients
  • Beware of flavorings, grains or add-ins with gluten

Being vigilant about label reading is key. For maximum assurance, plain single-ingredient oats are the best choice.

Precautions when preparing instant oatmeal

To avoid gluten cross-contact when preparing oatmeal:

  • Use a clean pot and utensils, washed thoroughly before use
  • Prevent splash-over if cooking multiple grains
  • Only make porridge using thick liquids like milk or water
  • Don’t let oatmeal sit out after cooking due to possible falling grains
  • Wash cooking tools thoroughly after use to avoid residual contamination

Making your own instant oats

You can also make your own single-ingredient instant oats at home by:

  1. Rolling or grinding regular oats into a fine powder
  2. Spreading the oat powder thin on a baking sheet
  3. Baking at 300°F for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally
  4. Allowing to cool fully then breaking into pieces
  5. Blending again to reach desired consistency

Be sure to use certified gluten-free oats and thoroughly clean equipment for this process. Homemade instant oats let you control for gluten and avoid questionable ingredients.

The bottom line

Most major brands of instant oatmeal are labeled gluten-free, meaning they can be part of a gluten-free diet. However, precautions should still be taken around potential cross-contact and added ingredients. Plain instant oats or oatmeal flavors without questionable ingredients are best options for gluten intolerance. Those with celiac disease should choose certified gluten-free oats and confirm they can tolerate oats before regular use.


  1. Fric P, Gabrovska D, Nevoral J. Celiac disease, gluten-free diet, and oats. Nutr Rev. 2011;69(2):107-115. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00368.x

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